Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA in a week which saw a heavy workload for the leaders of the European Union. There have been long, into the night, meetings aimed at stopping a ‘Grexit’, and how to address the current immigration crisis continues to be a thorny issue. By contrast, it has been reported that David Cameron’s opening pitch for a renegotiated British membership came as light relief.
Priorities for the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee
The PA caught up this week with the new chair of the BIS Select Committee, Iain Wright MP for Hartlepool who indicated that the Committee’s first inquiry of the Parliament will most likely be into the costs and benefits to business of Britain’s membership of the EU. He also shared with us the other ‘themes’ he sees as a priority for the Committee:
Productivity: addressing the UK’s productivity challenge is a serious economic issue which is holding back Britain’s competitiveness and workers’ living standards. Iain wants to see the Select Committee prioritising evaluating whether government policies on investment, education, regulation, innovation and skills are helping productivity growth over the long term;
Skills: assessing whether the skills system provides people, particularly young people, with the qualities and qualifications that business need and which allow wages and living standards for all to rise;
Scale-up: ensuring the UK has the best environment to allow start-up and small companies in all parts of Britain to scale-up quickly and create more economic activity and employment;
Employment rights: evaluating whether Government policies provide the appropriate balance between the rights of the individual worker and the interests of the business;
International Trade: scrutinising UKTI’s performance in tackling Britain’s trade gap and providing a comprehensive assessment of the Government’s TTIP negotiations; and
Consumers: ensuring Government policies adequately promote and protect consumer interests, give them sufficient choice, information and safety and ensure that goods and services provide value-for-money.
We had a very good discussion exploring how publishing could contribute to inquiries in these areas; it was agreed that we have particularly strong stories to tell with regards to skills (from our workforce development work) and trade (given our strong export performance). We also raised, in relation to consumers, that ‘cheap’ doesn’t necessarily equal a good deal for consumers if it means choice and investment in the market is being restricted due to the presence of a dominant player.
Iain is also of the belief that there is great scope in this Parliament for select committees to run joint inquiries. Given, for example, the importance of science and education to Britain’s future business prospects, he hopes to initiate joint work with the Education and Science and Technology Committees to scrutinise Government policy in a co-ordinated and effective way. Connected to this, an approach is being made to meet the new Chair of this Committee (and MP for a number of PA members), Oxford MP Nicola Blackwood.
All Party Publishing Group
Iain also agreed to chair a reconstituted All Party Publishing Group and we are working with him and his office to approach other potential officers. The rules regarding registration of such groups has changed with it no longer being necessary to identify 20 qualifying members. Instead, the Chair and at least one further officer has to be an MP and one officer has to be from the government party (Conservative) and at least one from main opposition (Labour). So, with Iain as chair (and an MP) three more officers are needed of which one must be an MP and one must be a Conservative, although one person can fulfil both criteria.
Digital Single Market update
The UK Government has co-signed a letter with a number of other Member States (Finland, Sweden, Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Netherlands) which has been sent to the European Council and European Commission. In the letter, the Governments write that “we should benchmark our ambitions in copyright (…) against best-in-class trading block…. This means getting the regulatory balance right”. They confirm that we should regulate only where there is clear evidence to do so, backed by the principles of smart regulation and thorough impact assessment, comment that it is very clear that a successful Digital Single Market will not be one that stifles innovation, investment and entrepreneurship and stress that “we should signal our commitment by calling for early action on those issues that will deliver the most tangible and practical benefits for European consumers, including by setting a clear path to eliminating mobile roaming charges, ensuring cross-border portability of digital content.”
An EU Digital Single Market ‘Going Local’ Conference took place in London this week at Europe House, the European Parliament’s home in London, which gave people the opportunity to hear more about the plans afoot for a digital single market. Robert Madelin (Director-General for DG Digital Economy and Growth) opened the event showing with a video made by the Commission which highlighted the internet activity of citizens across the EU for personal and commercial purposes. He emphasised that the DSM would have a narrow focus and operate around 3 pillars. (1) Better access for consumers, (2) Innovative services and advanced digital networks, (3) Enhance the growth potential of the digital economy. Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, discussed the need for the DSM to enhance connectivity and access. He also highlighted that the DSM white paper raised questions rather than coming to definite conclusions, which gives member states the scope to help shape an effective strategy for a strong digital economy. Jonathan Faull (Director General for Internal Market and Stability) examined the financial impact of the DSM and the increase in online payments and banking. He announced that the Commission will be launching a Green Paper for Online Financial Services this autumn and will enable officials to decide the best policy moving forward.
The closing discussion, chaired by Martin Bailey (Head of Unit Digital Single Market, DG CONNECT), explored what the DSM means for business, consumers and employees. Panellists included David Caro (Chairman EU and International Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses), Matthew Fell (Director for Competitive Markets, CBI), Tony Lennon (Research officer, BECTU), Seren Thirou (Economic Analyst, British Chamber of Commerce) and Anthony Walker (Deputy CEO, techUK). The speakers agreed that the DSM had the potential to create a robust and successful digital economy if the right balance was reached between consumer and commercial interests. Seren argued that the DSM must also ensure that all member states have access to fast broadband to facilitate connectivity and bolster e commerce. Anthony highlighted the need for policy and regulatory frameworks to move at a faster rate to keep up with evolving technology, while David outlined the need data protection to be tailored so that small businesses are not overwhelmed in the future. Matthew saw the DSM as a good test for businesses and expressed the need for it to enable EU online platforms to thrive rather than focusing on limiting the powers of US companies such as Google and Facebook. Exploring the social element, Tony argued that the DSM needs to address the impact that digital will have on day to day workers to ensure that they feel protected as citizens rather than just being considered consumers. He also emphasised that the DSM must not confuse portability with territoriality.
European Open Science Conference
The European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation’s Open Science conference took place this week. Opened by Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, ‘A new start for Europe: Opening up to an ERA of Innovation’ sought to bring together key players from the fields of research, business and innovation, to discuss Open Science, the European Research Area, and Innovation. In his speech, Moedas committed to charting a new path for European research and innovation policy, finding a “new strategy that is fit for purpose for a world that is open, digital and global”. He set out three major challenges:
1. We are too rarely succeeding in getting research results to market. Technologies developed in Europe are most of the time commercialised elsewhere.
2. Although Europe generates more scientific output than any other region in the world, in some areas we fall behind on the very best science. At the same time, there is a revolution happening in the way science works. Every part of the scientific method is becoming an open, collaborative and participative process.
3. Europe punches below its weight in international science and science diplomacy. Our collective scientific importance should be matched by a more active voice in global debates.
And proposed three strategic priorities to overcome these challenges:
Open Innovation: involving far more actors in the innovation process, from researchers, to entrepreneurs, to users, to governments and civil society; capitalise on the results of European research and innovation and create the right ecosystems, increase investment, and bring more companies and regions into the knowledge economy.
Open Science: preparing a call for European Science Cloud Project in order to identify the possibility of creating a cloud for scientists; more open access to research results and the underlying data; setting standards for the management, interoperability and quality of scientific data.
Openness to the World: remain relevant and competitive by engaging more in science diplomacy and global scientific collaboration. It is not sufficient to only support collaborative projects, partnerships must be enabled between regions and countries.
The speech was packed with announcements, some of which are noted below:
Develop one or several European Fund of Funds that will invest in new generations of great European innovative companies
Introduce a "seal of excellence" for applicants that are evaluated as excellent but cannot obtain financing from Horizon 2020, to help them access Structural Funds.
Take stock of the various schemes to support innovation and SMEs under Horizon 2020, to look at best practice internationally, and to design a new European Innovation Council. This is not for tomorrow, but I believe we should discuss it as a major element under the mid-term review of Horizon 2020
Launch a new European Research Integrity Initiative – with clear standards and mechanisms to tackle scientific misconduct – by the end of this year
Launch of a number of international initiatives such as work with Latin America and African partners to launch a common research strategy for the South Atlantic
IPO Research Plans
We met with the IPO Research Team to catch up on their plans going forward. Unfortunately the post-election research programme is not yet published (it is going to the Board on 15 th July before being signed off by the Minister) but the team were able to confirm that the research will now be focused around themes, such as innovation and growth and infringement and enforcement, as opposed to types of rights. The lack of detail in the Commission’s digital single market strategy has meant that they are no further to ascertaining what research is needed, although we made a strong plea for work to be done measuring the benefit of the current framework to the UK as without this it is nigh on impossible to work out what the impact of the proposed reforms will be. The team have been using the time to extend their understanding of how funding models work currently and were very receptive to having a briefing from publishers on how licensing works in our sector which The PA will be arranging.
Labour has announced plans to devolve to responsibility for overseeing education standards city regions. The Guardian reports on Tristram Hunt’s criticism of the Government’s decision to exclude education from its Northern Powerhouse plans believing it leaves education “under a form of soviet command and control in which decisions are increasingly taken in Whitehall.”
Following the Prime Minister’s attack on ‘coasting schools’, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced new criteria to judge whether schools are ‘coasting’ and require intervention. Schools will be measured by the progress they make in advancing pupils over three years, rather than overall levels of attainment. The Guardian welcomes the news but says it is vital parents still have a say on academy conversions. Read The Telegraph’s report here.
Of particular resonance perhaps to those readers of a certain age, the Evening Standard’s Richard Godwin considers what would happen if Ferris Bueller took his ‘Day Off’ today, concluding that Ferris’ parents would be fined, Ferris himself would be diagnosed with ADHD, and the school would be placed under special measures.
The PA met this week with Kathy Settle who has been appointed as head of the Leadership for Libraries Task Force which was established to drive forward the recommendations in the second Sieghart Report. Kathy provided a clear update on the Task Force’s priorities, listing these as being:
Overseeing digital engagement – rollout of wifi, elending, online support
Adding value – promote libraries support for agendas of others e.g. health and wellbeing (books on prescription), business services, literacy etc
Facilitating the sharing of best practices
Developing the library workforce – make sure they feel empowered and properly trained
Communications – getting the library community better at promoting what they do
We raised the strange situation of there being no publisher on the task force, a point which was taken on board and will hopefully be addressed.
Following our own successful site blocking action under S97A of the Copyright Act, our colleagues in Australia are hopeful of being able to take similar action in the not to distance future. The Australian Senate has passed its own website blocking legislation in the form of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 to enable overseas websites whose main purpose is to allow people to steal creative works to be targeted. Murray St Leger, Chief Executive of The Copyright Agency, commented: “We applaud both the major parties’ support for the legislation to shut down these sites which facilitate massive online theft at the expense of creators. Online theft hurts Australian writers, visual artists, photographers, journalists and publishers”.
This week we have:
Met with the new Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee; met with the IPO Economic and Research Unit; attended the EU Digital Single Market ‘Going Local’ Conference; met with Andrew Orlowski of The Register; briefed Andrew Lewer MEP on publishers views on the Reda Report and the Digital Single Market; met with Kathy Settle, head of the Libraries Task Force.
Next week we will be:
Attending a meeting of the National Literacy Forum; meeting with Sherpa Fact; meeting with Booktrust; meeting with the new Chief Executive of the British Council; meeting with Minster of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP; attending the Opening Meeting of the Publishers Licensing Society; and continuing our discussions with UK MEPs.